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Updated Toyota Rav4 tops Consumer Reports’ latest ratings of small SUVs

Posted Saturday, April 18, 2009

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RAV4 outscores competitors including Subaru Forester 2.5X

Yonkers, NY — The freshened four-cylinder Toyota RAV4 outpointed competitors including the Subaru Forester 2.5X in Consumer Reports’ tests of six small SUVs for the May issue.

In this class, the RAV4’s overall road test score of 82 is below only that of the more expensive, turbocharged Forester 2.5XT Limited and RAV4 V6. But when comparing the most popular four-cylinder versions of these vehicles, recent incremental improvements allow the RAV4 four-cylinder to edge out the similarly equipped Forester and all others in this month’s test group.

The RAV4 got a new 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine for 2009, replacing the old 2.4-liter. The smoother, quieter engine delivers the same fuel economy as the one it replaces, which at 23 mpg overall, it’s the best of any automatic, nonhybrid SUV Consumer Reports has tested.

The RAV4 and Forester are both excellent choices. The Forester has a slightly more comfortable ride, and the RAV4 is a bit more sparing with fuel. The RAV4’s edge over the Forester in the popular low- to mid-$20,000s price range is why it was named a Top Pick in CR’s Annual Auto Issue.

“The RAV4 is a well-rounded package, combining good all-around performance with a comfortable ride, agile handling and outstanding reliability,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports Auto Test Center. “It also offers an optional third-row seat, which is unusual in this class.”

The Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner twins have been updated this year, with revised four- and six-cylinder engines, six-speed automatic transmissions, and better brakes. Rounding out the test group of small SUVs are the Suzuki Grand Vitara, now available in a four-cylinder version, and the updated Jeep Patriot.

Prices for the six cars in CR’s tests this month range from $22,563 for the Suzuki to $36,615 for the loaded Mariner Hybrid.

Full tests and ratings of the test group appear in the May issue of Consumer Reports, which goes on sale April 7. The reports are also available to subscribers of www.ConsumerReports.org.

The RAV4, Escape, and Mariner are the only vehicles from this month’s test group that are Recommended by Consumer Reports. CR only Recommends vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average predicted reliability based on CR’s Annual Car Reliability Survey of its more than seven million print and web subscribers, and performed at least adequately if crash-tested or included in a government rollover test.

The Patriot scored too low in CR’s tests to be Recommended, and there is no reliability data for the Grand Vitara with a four-cylinder engine.

CR’s engineers found the freshened RAV4 is a well-rounded package, combining good all-around performance with a comfortable ride, agile handling, and good space utilization. It also has an optional third-row seat that brings seating for a seven in a pinch. Agility is a strong point, it has quick steering, and electronic stability control helped it post a commendable speed during CR’s avoidance maneuver. The RAV4 ($25,405 Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price as tested) is powered by a 179-hp, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that is refined and responsive. Braking and headlights were rated Very Good. Fuel economy is an impressive 23 mpg overall on regular fuel in CR’s own fuel economy tests.

Little has changed with the Ford Escape since 2001. The four-cylinder and V6 engines are noisy. The Mariner Hybrid averaged 26 mpg overall, best of any SUV, but it’s pricey. All three versions CR tested had an unsettled ride and noticeable noise. The Hybrid was a bit floaty on the highway and the four-cylinder engine sounds taxed and harsh. The V6 is easier to live with. The Ford Escape ($25,470, MSRP as tested) is powered by a 171-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that delivered average performance and chalked up 21 mpg overall. The Hybrid’s ($36,615, MSRP as tested) four-cylinder, combined with its electric motor, makes 177-hp, but is slower than the base four-cylinder. Braking improved from the 2008 model CR tested. The interiors for all three tested versions have hard plastics with some wide gaps. Cargo volume is quite good.

CR’s testers found that the Grand Vitara, falls far short of the best in this class but has some virtues. Equipped with a newly released four-cylinder engine, the powertrain is sluggish, lacks refinement, and is not very economical with fuel. The ride is stiff and choppy, and handling lacks agility. Despite its everyday clumsiness, emergency handling is very secure. The Grand Vitara ($22,563 MSRP, as tested) is powered by a 166-hp, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that provides adequate performance. Expect to average just 19 mpg overall using regular fuel. The four-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly but doesn’t downshift promptly. Braking distances were short, and headlights were good. The interior uses high-quality trim that fits well. Cargo room is adequate.

The Patriot has received some tweaks to fit and finish and noise suppression, but it remains an also-ran. Its compact size and good fuel economy, 22 mpg overall, are pluses. But tight quarters, a noisy engine, lack of agility, and impaired view out detract from the driving experience and drag the overall score below CR’s threshold for Recommending it. Reliability has been above average. The Patriot, ($23,560, MSRP as tested) is powered by a 172-hp, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that provides average performance. The continuously variable transmission works well. Braking and headlight distances were quite good. Although the interior is revamped, it remains spartan. Components fit well but feel cheap. Most controls are fairly easy to use, and cargo space is fairly generous.

Videos of most of the vehicles in this test group are available at http://tinyurl.com/cdokcg.With more than 7 million print and online subscribers, Consumer Reports is one of the most trusted sources for information and advice on consumer products and services. It conducts the most comprehensive auto-test program of any U.S. publication or Web site; the magazine’s auto experts have decades of experience in driving, testing, and reporting on cars. To become a subscriber, consumers can call 1-800-234-1645. Information and articles from the magazine can be accessed online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

Consumer Reports has no commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor appearing on this newspaper's web site.

 
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Updated Toyota Rav4 tops Consumer Reports’ latest ratings of small SUVs
Toyota's RAV4’s overall road test score of 82 is below only that of the more expensive, turbocharged Forester 2.5XT Limited and RAV4 V6.
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